OK OK, so Top Chef Masters ended last night and there's a lot of talk about "what should have" and "what could have." The finale was exciting and more importantly, it was mouth-watering. Hubert Keller and his Michelin star were delightful, Michael Chiarello and his panache were amazing - but personally, I think Rick Bayless was the most deserving, and will appreciate his title of Top Chef Master the most.
Rick was the most humble contestant, and I think he elevated the Mexican cuisine to a level that it isn't well known for, haute. If I were to go without Mexican food for too long, I may have to draw and quarter myself. Most recently, a burrito de camarones y champiñones made my eyes roll into the back of my head. It was a "Shrimp and Mushroom Burrito with Pasilla Peppers and Onions..."
What Rick did on the show was take some great Mexican food, and beat a French guy with his French food and an Italian guy with his Italian food; and did I mention that Rick is a gringo? Rick isn't even Mexican. What does that tell you besides that he is a bad-ass?
Mexican cuisine has the advantage of combining the old world and the new. The native Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec culture; the Spanish, the German, and more recently, the Americans dipping their spoons, tasting the pot. Adjusting, modifying, tweaking the recipes until what goes 'into the tortilla' is simply perfect.
Not many other cultures are so intercontinental - yet so uniquely their own - as the Mexican culture. You can glocalize a burrito in Texas by putting BBQ sauce in it. You can put together eggs, beans, and enchilada sauce in Quebec and still call it Huevos Rancheros. You can also slap lamb, feta, and cucumbers into flat bread. You may call it a Wrap - but it's still a burrito.
I spent a few weeks in Japan once and the one big, Thanksgiving style meal we prepared was Maxican. That's what we craved. Real cheese is tough enough to find there, but can you imagine how hard it is to get tortillas?